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Blind Birders Count by Ear

By Pat Leonard
Donna Posont

They’re the Michigan Bird Brains— a team of teenage birders in an informal class organized by Donna Posont. At the team’s first Great Backyard Bird Count this year, they reported birds such as American Crows, Black-capped Chickadees, and Blue Jays. And they did it entirely by ear—because these birders, teacher as well as students, are blind.

“We start with sound but then factor in where we heard the bird,” Posont explains. “Was it down by the lake or in the woods?”

Donna writes eloquently about experiencing nature without sight, adding the kinds of keen observations that help her students learn their birds. “When traveling along the trail and tapping tree roots with a cane,” she wrote on our blog, “We stop and feel places where a Pileated Woodpecker pounded into a tree trunk looking for insects. Without sight you could know that across the lake on another shore the Great Blue Heron was preparing for his morning breakfast of Flanagan Lake fish…. Early arrivers might also have the privilege of feeling the imprint of a deer’s hoof in the mud where it had ventured to the edge of the lake for a cool drink of water.” (Read the full essay on our blog.)

Next, she hopes the team will enter a birding competition. “What I really like about birding is how the kids gain confidence and self-esteem when they become successful at it,” Donna says. “During the GBBC they just considered themselves birders participating with everyone else.”

Originally published in the April 2012 issue of BirdScope.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library